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SHE'D lost her best friend and discovered she wasn't who she thought she was--all in the space of a few weeks.
Two unrelated but cataclysmic events which had catapulted Ianthe from safety into the frightening sphere of the unknown, and in the painful process introduced her to a whole other reality.
"Well,'she said. "Now that I'm here, I may as well make the best of it."
Frowning in the mirror at the doubt she saw reflected so clearly in the rich caramel depths of her dark brown eyes, she tried to stem the tilting sensation that made her feel as though she was desperately endeavouring to keep her balance when a deep fissure had just cracked open beneath her feet. "Keep breathing...just keep breathing." Her own advice rang a little hollow round the plain whitewashed walls of the hotel room, with its lone faded picture of a Greek Madonna and child--but still she grabbed at it, standing perfectly still until some of the terror ebbed away and she was breathing normally again. A slow trickle of sweat meandered down the valley between her breasts. She would fight this...she had to. There weren't any safety nets any more to catch her if she fell.
From the moment she'd decided to fly out to the small Greek island she had chosen at random on the map, with a tumultuous mix of grief and excitement pounding through her heart because that was where she would start her quest of self-discovery, Ianthe had promised herself that she would avoid anything that remotely resembled routine. She would discover an adventurous spirit inside herself if she had to take a shotgun to it and force it out.
"There's no going back, Ianthe, so you may as well get used to the idea andjust accept it."
This time her advice didn't ring so hollow, and a strong surge of determination made her feel as if she was being carried along on a jetstream of renewed purpose. She was twenty-nine years old, until recently the owner of a thriving and successful business, and would not argue the fact that so far her life had been fairly unremarkable. The beloved only child of parents who had already been in their forties when she was born, she had been brought up with caution instilled into her very marrow, so that she almost never did anything spontaneously, and Ianthe hadn't ever rebelled against that. Until three months ago, that was--when the tumultuous events that had overtaken her had propelled her into acting in a way she had never acted before.
Locking the door of her room, she hurried down the wide 'Roman baths'-style steps that led to the hotel's small reception, suddenly needing to be amongst people again. Her flip-flop sandals slapped almost too loudly against the cool marble as she walked, so that she was conscious of the echoes being the only blemish on the otherwise subdued atmosphere. Depositing her key in the appropriate box on the wall, she went outside into a blaze of sunshine and a cornucopia of scents. She didn't really have a clue what she was going to do with her first full day on the island, but after all wasn't that the point? Instead of planning practically every moment to the nth degree, she would let the day take her wherever it willed. She would open herself up to opportunity instead of trying to predict every outcome.
As she set off down the shiny, slippery-stoned alleyway, Ianthe silently ordered herself to relax her shoulders and slow her stride. She was on holiday, for goodness' sake, not running a marathon! She breathed in with another passionate burst of determination, inhaling air that was crammed with the scent of so many delicious things it was hard to pick out just one. All she knew was that the balmy cocktail was stimulatingly different from anything she'd experienced in a long, long time.
Minutes later, sitting outside a waterside taverna that had royal blue cloths on the tables and matching umbrellas, Ianthe focused interestedly on the outrageously glamorous yachts that were moored in the harbour in front of her. They seemed to positively yell Look at me!, their luxurious clean lines and gleaming bodywork fascinating her, yet eliciting little envy. Even unimaginable wealth was not armour enough to protect a person from the crucifying agony of being betrayed or losing someone you loved.
Ianthe had lost her best friend Polly to breast cancer when she hadn't even known how seriously ill she was. Less than three months later, when she'd been undergoing a routine blood test and the technician had innocently enquired what nationality her parents were, a seed of doubt about her ancestry had lodged itself in her mind and would not go away. There had been a couple of other occasions in the past when that same doubt had surfaced, and she had tentatively questioned her English-looking parents and been firmly reassured. In retrospect, she knew that she had never been quite convinced, but she had accepted their word and pushed the niggling questions determinedly away.
But this time she hadn't banished it to the back of her mind. This time she had confronted her parents with her nagging suspicion, demanded the truth, and had had her doubts shockingly proven correct.
Be careful of what you look for because you might just find it. That had turned out to be an adage Ianthe wished she had taken heed of, because she had learned that her parents were not her real parents at all. When the full, almost unbelievable story had emerged, she'd discovered that she'd been adopted as a baby after being abandoned by her natural mother in a hospital laundry basket, with nothing but a creased little note that simply read, Her name is Ianthe.
Now, as she raised her creamy almond latte to her lips, she blinked back the scalding surge of tears that swam into her eyes behind her huge black sunglasses. But she was unable to halt the flow entirely. No, money couldn't protect you from the events of life that hit you unawares, slamming you out of safety into a dark, dark chasm with no bottom on which to plant your feet. That was why Ianthe had put her business up for sale--the two fashionable dress shops that had cornered an eager market in boho chic and retro--and decided to ditch her predictable and safe routine for ever.
Now she was free of ties of any kind, and her life was an unknown trail that led to heaven only knew where. She would have to take comfort in the unknown from now on, because she had no job to return to, no romantic partner to worry about where her little quest of self-discovery would lead her, and no best friend in whom to confide.As for her parents... Well, she'd had the first really big row with them of her life. Why had they left it until now to tell her that she was adopted? Would they have told her at all if she hadn't confronted them with her suspicions? Why had they lied to her, deliberately keeping from her the astounding revelation that she'd had a brother too, who had died when he was only four years old--a year before they'd adopted Ianthe? That was why they'd been so over-protective of her--but part of the way they had 'protected' her was by lying.
Even Polly had lied. She'd lied to Ianthe to
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protect her, Polly's husband Tom had told her afterwards, because she'd known that news of her prognosis would devastate her closest friend. Her parents' defence of their own lies had been frighteningly similar: she would have been devastated. It had left Ianthe wondering why they all thought she was so incapable of dealing with the truth.
A deep shiver of distress rippling down her back, she took another sip of coffee, only to find it had cooled disagreeably and wasn't nearly as delicious as she'd promised herself it would be. Paying her bill, she left some coins for the waiter as a tip, pushed herself to her feet and made her way to an art gallery that was mentioned in one of the island's brochures she'd picked up. Her plan was to lose herself in there for an hour or two, and hopefully find some inspiration about what on earth she was going to do next with this precariously unpredictable new life she'd suddenly and perhaps recklessly signed up for.